By Alan W. Dowd
Afghanistan in Review
This month marks the first anniversary of the beginning of combat operations in Afghanistan. Most observers agree that the US-led assault on al Queda and its Taliban hosts, which began October 7, 2001, was an unqualified military success. Pentagon and State Department officials have detailed that success in a series of briefings before Congress; however, they are couching their assessments with warnings that the anti-terror campaign is far from over. According to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, al Queda has “burrowed into some 60 nations.” As a consequence, “our task extends well beyond Afghanistan.”
Still, the difficulty of the road ahead doesn’t diminish what has been accomplished. “We have defeated a vicious and repressive regime that gave refuge to evil,” Wolfowitz observes. Indeed, just 78 days after the beginning of combat operations, the United States and its allies had removed the Taliban and paved the way for the interim government of Hamid Karzai. Just six months after that, 1500 delegates representing every ethnic group and all 32 provinces in Afghanistan endorsed Karzai’s government and elected him to a two-year term as their president, marking the first time in 23 years the people of Afghanistan were free to choose their own leader. Since last October, some 1.2 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan, and the United Nations expects a total of 2 million refugees to return to this increasingly stable patch of Central Asia.
Half of al Queda’s 30 most-wanted terrorists have been killed or captured. More than 500 al-Queda forces are being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Pakistan alone has apprehended 378 al-Queda fighters. In addition, some 2400 suspected terrorists have been arrested in a global dragnet spanning 90 countries. The intelligence gleaned from these detainees has prevented a number of additional attacks in the United States, Morocco, Singapore, Pakistan and elsewhere.
The success is all the more impressive given the fact that there was no war plan for Afghanistan on September 11, 2001. According to Wolfowitz, “Gen. Franks was starting from scratch on Sept. 20, when he received the order to begin planning, but less than three weeks later, on October 7th, we commenced military operations.” Wolfowitz called the attack and swift liberation of land-locked Afghanistan, “a remarkable feat of logistical and operational agility.” More of the same will be necessary in the next phases of the war.
Speaking of the war’s next phase, media outlets have devoted considerable amounts of ink and airtime this summer and fall to leaks about a looming US attack on Iraq. The leaks point to a massive assault involving 250,000 troops and hundreds of warplanes attacking from as many as eight countries. What hasn’t been as widely reported is some of the political, diplomatic and military activity swirling around the issue of Iraq.
Along with Britain, the United States is apparently retooling for operations beyond Afghanistan. The New York Times and Military.com report that the Pentagon has restocked its stores of precision-guided bombs. The British newspaper The Guardian reports an increase in allied air exercises and low-flying missions above and around Iraq.
On the diplomatic front, President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have agreed to meet at Camp David this fall, apparently to hammer out the final details for military operations against Iraq. One British newspaper has even called the meeting “a war summit.” Even as plans for war leak out, Baghdad has rejected numerous peace overtures, including a compromise offered by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to return weapons inspectors to Iraq for the first time since they were expelled in 1998.
With relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States increasingly chilly, Washington has begun to forge new friendships with key nations in the region. Eritrea, a little-known sliver of land on the western shore of the Red Sea, is one of those nations. The Pentagon has discussed basing rights with the Eritrean government, which has warmly welcomed the budding friendship.
Another likely bridgehead in any war against Iraq is Jordan, which actually sided with Baghdad during the first Gulf War. However, there are growing signs that Jordan is eager to cement an alliance with Washington. Jordan’s Prince Hassan represented the kingdom at a high-profile conference of Iraqi opposition groups in June. Lt. Gen. Khalid Jamil Surayrih, Jordan’s equivalent to America’s chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, recently met with Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of US Central Command. And Jordan’s King Abdullah has met with Bush no less than five times since February 2001. Bush has already doubled economic and military aid to Amman.
Further fueling speculation of a US-Jordanian military alliance are published reports that hundreds of American advisors have begun arriving in the kingdom. In fact, there are indications that the US military is in the process of refitting airfields inside Jordan. US military planners, speaking on the condition of anonymity, concede that Jordan would serve as a an ideal base for warplanes and ground troops in an attack on Iraq, just as Pakistan did vis-à-vis Afghanistan.
In addition, after months of hedging, longtime US ally Turkey has signed off on the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein. Turkish news agencies report that Wolfowitz’s late-summer visit to Turkey persuaded Ankara to support phase two of the War on Terror. As Wolfowitz put it, “Turkey stands to benefit enormously if Iraq becomes a normal country." Turkey played a key role in the 1990-1991 Gulf War and is currently leading an international peacekeeping force charged with stabilizing the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Finally, the political tealeaves are also floating to the surface. Gen. Wayne Downing, the president’s deputy national security advisor for counter-terrorism, abruptly resigned in late June. Downing had advocated an Afghan-style campaign to topple Saddam Hussein, using small teams of Special Forces and precision air power to clear the way to Baghdad for indigenous rebel groups. For much of the winter and spring, the so-called “Downing Plan” was offered as an alternative to the more conventional and much more robust plan advocated by Gen. Franks. If nothing else, Downing’s departure may be a final indication that the “Franks Plan” has won the support of both the president and the Pentagon.
Responding to reports that the Capitol Hill Police force is losing scores of officers each month, Congress is working on legislation to recruit new officers and retain current ones with financial incentives.
According to Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, there were 1240 officers or full-time equivalents on the Congressional police force in early July, down from 1364 in May. But the problems don’t end there: An investigation by another Washington-based paper, The Hill, found that administrators at the National Institutes of Health are scrambling to cope with a 77-percent attrition rate since 2001. NIH usually fields 108 officers, but currently has only 49. The National Park Service is also struggling to fill gaps in its force.
Many of the defectors are headed to the newly minted Transportation Safety Administration, which was created in the wake of September 11 to beef up security at airports and on commercial aircraft. In fact, the TSA has already received some 200,000 applications for the program. The TSA offers high-paying, benefit-laden jobs to police officers, many of whom will be deployed as “sky marshals.” The Hill’s investigation found that TSA officers could earn as much as $30,000 more than a Capitol Hill officer.
Introduced by Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the legislation provides for a steep pay raise, tuition reimbursement, bonuses for continuing education, retroactive overtime pay, an increase in the retirement age, and bonuses for recruitment. The bill passed the House without dissent and now awaits Senate action. Even so, Congressional attempts to staunch the flow of police officers away from Capitol Hill may not be enough: Roll Call’s review found that most Capitol Hill officers are leaving because of management problems—not money.
Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.